TAMPA, Fla. — County leaders on both sides of Tampa Bay are coming to terms with just how many COVID-19 cases experts predict over the next several weeks, and are working on getting ahead of the influx as much as possible.
A top USF professor and adviser to the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group says the county may see 13,000 to 18,000 new COVID-19 cases a day if people ignore social distancing and don't wear masks.
County leaders are using data like this to make a plan to tackle a potential second surge.
Officials are emphasizing what we've heard over and over — wear a mask, and continue social distancing. They plan to push that message even harder so that we can avoid scaling back Florida's reopening plan.
"If we continue at the rate that we're moving at right now and don't really do much else, we'll probably see you around 12 to 13,000 cases in the first week in July," said Dr. Thomas Unnasch,
Distinguished Professor at USF and Adviser to the Hillsborough County EPG.
He's referencing 12,000 to 13,000 daily cases in Hillsborough County alone in the next three weeks.
"We are alarmed right now by the increase in numbers, I will tell you," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman.
Dr. Unnasch's predictions are higher than the numbers we've seen, even at the state level.
"This is not a surprise, unfortunately," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman.
To avoid scaling back the steps we've taken to reopen, which Commissioner Overman says is a possibility, she says people need to take this more seriously.
"We could go back to 25% occupancy," said Overman.
In addition, leaders say we also need to take these steps to avoid overwhelming our hospitals.
"Even though it may only be 10 or 20% that get that sick, we don't have enough hospital beds," said Overman.
Hillsborough County's EPG members are working on getting the message out that this isn't over.
"Keep a mask in your purse, in your car, in your wallet, whatever, but just keep it handy," said Murman.
In Pinellas County, they're working to tackle the same issue. They're enlisting regional partners to make sure their message is clear.
"Kind of like we did with kids and smoking, you know, smoking's not cool; running around without a mask and contracting the disease and giving it to everybody else is not cool," said Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard.
They're recommending business owners start keeping a high volume stock of face masks for employees, but also for customers.
"Put a strong suggestion that people wear a mask when they're not eating," said Gerard.
Dr. Unnasch says we're not going to pinpoint those infected, with a simple temperature check at the door.
"You'll be able to weed out maybe 40% of people who are symptomatic by taking their temperatures, but the other 60% are going to be out there, and they're not even gonna know. "said Dr. Unnasch.
The simple solution: wear a mask.
"It appears to be the most effective thing that we could possibly do to stop the spread, "said Dr. Unnasch.
Hillsborough County leaders have a survey out right now that they're asking residents to fill out.
They want to know what kind of restrictions you think leaders should put in place when it comes to wearing masks.
The survey closes on Wednesday, and so far, they've got more than 17,000 individual responses.
You can fill out the survey by clicking here.